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Ottawa steps in as protests continue in Oka

Protestors set up a checkpoint at the entrance to Kanesatake to remind both communities that they will stand up to the mayor of Oka if he continues his misleading and incendiary speech. (Marisela Amador, The Eastern Door)

Federal and provincial politicians will meet with Mohawk Council of Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon, and then separately with the mayor of Oka Pascal Quevillon today in Montreal, to discuss the potential land transfer that has escalated tensions between both communities and sparked protests from Kanehsata’kehró:non.

An MCK press release issued late Thursday (yesterday) said that Simon would join the second meeting only if the mayor apologizes publicly.

“The minister of Indigenous relations from Quebec and I will be there to listen and offer solutions,” said Liberal Marc Miller, parliamentary secretary to minister Carolyn Bennett of Crown-Indigenous relations. 

“Because of the tensions and the words that have been exchanged, it isn’t one meeting or two separately held meetings that will solve all this, but the important thing I feel, and it is the same for the Quebec government, is that we need to have an ongoing dialogue that is open, respectful, and in a form that is able to voice concerns in a way that doesn’t flare up communities.” 

Sitting in on the two meetings will be Quebec minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs Sylvie D’Amours

In the last few weeks, Simon and Quevillon have publically exchanged words, with Quevillon making inflammatory statements to the media such as the possibility of the municipality of Oka becoming “surrounded” by Kanesatake, and raising issues regarding the multitude of cigarette shacks and cannabis shops that populate the Kanien’kehá:ka territory. 

“I felt the protest was good, but I just wish they would do it more calmly. I find that the Oka mayor is trying to get a reaction from the protesters and that is exactly what they did. They reacted. It was all over the news, and it made them look bad.”

– Kanesatake resident Wynonna Cross. 

“I feel that these are very irresponsible statements (from Quevillon), and I would think that the majority of Canadians would feel the same way,” said Miller. “Minister Bennett has said the same as well as the prime minister.” 

Simon has criticized the mayor’s rhetoric, calling it “racist” and downright dangerous. 

Simon acknowledges that cannabis is an issue in his community, but points to a lack of resources from the federal government in dealing with cannabis and legalization as the root of the problem.  

“I was warning them a year before legalization, they needed to provide us with the resources so we can adapt to this new legalization and make sure that it was done properly,” said Simon. “When you provide Kanesatake with the proper resources, we can do what is necessary.”

The Eastern Door spoke to Simon on Wednesday ahead of the planned meetings, and he said, “We are still discussing it. There have been some developments. I can’t get into it, but we are looking at some possibilities.”

The dispute between both communities came to a head recently because of a proposed “ecological gift” that developer Gregoire Gollin wants to give back to Kanesatake, as well as making even more of his land available through the “Crown’s assistance and facilitation,” according to the declaration of mutual understanding and agreement signed by the MCK and Gollin in June.

Last Thursday a group of Kanehsata’kehró:non set up a small protest at the entrance of Kanesatake. Early Friday morning images circulated showing a confrontation between a Kanesatake resident and the media. 

However, protesters told The Eastern Door that that it was a peaceful demonstration, and that they should not be looped in with one individual. 

“The reason why we are doing this is to stand in solidarity for our territories and let the mayor of Oka know that we are standing in peace and that we are here, we are present, we are not trying to intimidate anybody,” said protestor Stacy Pepin. “I have seen posts on the news that we are trying to intimidate cars passing by, which is not our intention.”

Other Kanesatake community members think that this is just fuelling the hate that Quevillon is propagating. 

“I felt the protest was good, but I just wish they would do it more calmly,” said Kanesatake resident Wynonna Cross. 

“I find that the Oka mayor is trying to get a reaction from the protesters and that is exactly what they did. They reacted. It was all over the news, and it made them look bad.”

For his part, the council grand chief said that he might not agree with the protesters, but that he supports their right to peaceful protest.

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